Ran into a little Interferon-ance…

Well, it’s been a while. To my vast coterie of followers — all 13 or 14 of you — apologies. Best laid plans and all exploded when I received an early Christmas present, a diagnosis of perianal malignant melanoma. I’ll skip the details and let the name tip you to the salient facts. My friend Bob’s response upon hearing was, “So, you’ve got ass cancer.” And there you have it. Shit happens.

If I had to share something with Farrah Fawcett, I would have preferred the hair. It was a surprise find during a routine surgery for (polite cough here) hemorrhoids. Unlike the melanoma we all know — skin cancer — this particular delight accounts for only 0.2% – 0.3% of the disease. Thanks, but I’d rather win the lottery. Being an internet whore, as soon I my surgeon called with the news I jumped online and read every mention of the disease I could find. And the internet, being a bit of a whore herself, generously served up both the possibility of complete cure and a “Ho, ho, ho — you have three months to live” super-size value meal. Merry Last Christmas. God bless us, every one.

Now I’m your basic dreamer/pragmatist, so of course after a day of anger and desperate panic, I immediately began eating a healthy, anti-cancer diet. Yeah, I know. I stopped dairy and red meat. I bought tons of fruits and vegetables and no longer let them just rot in my produce drawer. I started each morning with a fruit and veggie smoothie (finally putting that $300 Montel Williams juicer to use.) Gluten didn’t pass my lips. I vitaminized, mineralized and visualized. In two months I lost 50 pounds (Ed. Note: There’s plenty where that came from, so not as drastic as it sounds.) The phrase ‘eat to live’ became more than just the title of Joel Furhman’s very informative bestseller. It was my new directive. And guess what — pretty quickly I began to feel like a million bucks.

Luckily this wasn’t an instance of that famous last gulp of life before kicking off. I’m still here and, as of my last PET scan, technically disease-free. Apparently, this is what it feels like to eat well and take care of yourself. Guess some of us just need a bigger foot in the butt to pay attention. (Had my mother, the dietician, not been cremated, she’d be turning in her grave…)

Now back to the villain (or hero?) of this piece — perianal melanoma. The logistical reason this was even discovered (because there are virtually no symptoms until it’s usually well on its nasty way) was because I was unhappy with my healthcare situation and wanted to return to my previous physician. That required changing my health insurance, which as a freelancer was actually up to me since I pay out of pocket. (Ed. Note: This would still be on my to do list had there not been SERIOUS effort on my friend, Annette’s part. She would not stop bugging me until I did the paperwork. Lesson here: It’s always Nike time. )

Once on my new plan, even though I’d had one only 4 months prior, as a pro forma gesture I went in for a physical. Dr. Painter, being the thorough physician she is, noticed a few things, sent me to a few specialists who ultimately discovered my early Christmas present thus securing the truth that my decision to change back to Dr. Painter was one of the best of my life. [Ed. Note: See image above.]

Okay, we have the pathology report — what next? Dr. Nandakumar, my colorectal surgeon had never run across this particular melanoma. My brand new oncologist (and who doesn’t thrill to speak those words?) was in the same boat. So they presented my case to the surgical review team at Weill Cornell, seeking opinions on a treatment protocol.  

The group decision: a second surgery (when they used the words ‘wider’ and ‘deeper’ I was ever more grateful to the inventors of general anesthesia) followed by weekly interferon shots — for up to 5 years.

Flashback here to my initial oncology visit with Dr. Popa (a delightfully intelligent woman with great experience and a generous sense of humor.) She gave me the lowdown on standard treatments for melanoma – one of which was interferon. As she outlined the nasty side effects (suicidal ideations, anyone?) she promised it would be prescribed only as a last resort.

Returning to the land of happy treatment news, I looked across at my friend, Eric who’d been a brick, attending every doc visit with me since the diagnosis. He was masking the same “Oh, shit” expression on his face as I had on mine. “But,” Dr. Popa chirped, “It’s the fancy interferon!” Well — I don’t usually go in for labels, but as long as it’s tasteful…

She explained that my prescribed treatment, Sylatron, was pretty new having just been approved by the FDA in April of 2011. Developed by Merck, it is a pegalated (coated) version of the traditional drug. Interferon is the general label for naturally occurring proteins which are released in response to pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria or tumors. So strictly speaking the method of action for Sylatron is to boost my immune system so that my body would target cancer cells and eradicate them. Faster, pussycat, kill, kill!!

I’d like to take a moment for a little life irony here and point out that my freelance job for the past several years has been developing training for pharmaceutical companies. What this meant was suddenly I was uniquely qualified to read and understand the Prescribing Information for my own cancer drug (you know, that multi-folded piece of thin white paper with the tiny, tiny print that you get inside every prescription box. Yes, Virginia, I actually read mine.) Ain’t life a kick!

I chose Friday as my weekly injection day, so I would have the weekend to deal with the promised side effects (fever, chills, nausea — the usual cocktail crowd.)  As I was the first patient to receive this treatment at Weill Cornell, they wanted to observe me at the infusion center for the first 10 or so weeks. Pat, my regular infusion nurse, was the personification of experience, humor and grounded intelligence and would make anyone feel safe. So I happily offered up my arm week after week for my Sylatron dose.

Upon receiving the shots, there was an immediate reaction. First, a noticeable band of pressure developed around my head. Then, according to Eric who was always there to watch, I would sprout a pair of red “Spock” eyebrows while a flush traveled down my face, sometimes ending as a scarlet goatee. My blood pressure would spike and I definitely felt strange. Within 10-15 minutes, the reaction would lessen and once my blood pressure returned to normal, Pat would send me on my way.

I won’t lie. That first night, with a fever of nearly 104 degrees, as I hugged a huge surgical ice pack and struggled to lower my temperature while attempting to keep the top of my head from flying off, I wondered if I could handle this treatment. Luckily a combination of the cold embrace and a Bob Newhart rerun (“Life is a Hamburger,” the one where Carol announces her engagement to Don Fezler, an unemployed would-be poet) at least got me to sleep. When I awoke in the morning, things were much more manageable.

After the first eight weeks, the dose was cut in half. The benefit was some of the side-effects lessened. By week twelve I’d graduated to shooting up at home. Giving myself the needle was the easy part (it’s just like a sub-Q insulin shot) but mixing the drug properly required really paying attention! Luckily it all comes in a sweet little package with instructions and syringes so now it’s just what I do on a hot Friday night.

Well, that’s it. I’ve got cancer? I’ve survived cancer? I’m living with cancer? I’m not sure what my label of choice — if any — will be. What I do know is that a little sense of urgency can be very effective at driving the dramatic structure. So RIPE and I are back on the boards. Countdown to opening night.

So I invite you to stay in touch, and perhaps raise your glass in community each Friday evening as I’m having cocktails for one (on the advice of the manufacturer, not shaken. Just gently turned.) Hear that, Mr. Bond?


Are You a Good Bitch, or a Bad Bitch?

The other day, sitting in my apartment pondering the state of my existence and the person I’ve become, I suddenly heard a distinct musical burble. I leapt up, thinking I’d mistakenly sat on my new iPhone.

From of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a shining sphere of light hovering just above my kitchen cabinets, As it quivered toward me, balanced in the middle of this Technicolor translucence I spied a slightly blurry Billie Burke, in full Glinda the Good Witch drag.

I stood transfixed as the bubble slowly settled onto my desperately in need of being refinished hardwood floor. Then — just like those cottony dandelions we all blew into the wind as children — it disappeared, revealing Billie/Glinda in all her glory, magic wand and bemused smile at the ready. Despite all the mystery, my first thought was, “Jeez, she’s a lot shorter than I anticipated.”

Billie crooked her heavily-crowned head, leaned in closely and merrily piped,

“Are you a good bitch, or a bad bitch?”

“I’m not a bitch at all, if you please,” tumbled from my mouth as I curtsied, involuntarily. I looked down at my legs in disbelief and heard my cats giggle behind me — at least I think they were giggling. It’s hard to tell with cats.

Apparently my answer gave Billie pause. Or annoyed her, I couldn’t quite tell. She scratched thoughtfully at her blonde curls with the tip of her magic wand then seemed to made a decision. In one a swift gesture she plucked the heavy crown from her head and used it to gesture towards my sofa. “Sit. We’ll discuss.”

Ever my mother’s daughter, before complying, I politely offered her a beverage.

“Are you nuts!!! This dress was sewn right on me. I know it gives me a killer silhouette, but this waistband could choke a horse. So let’s cut to the chase.” I plopped down on the cushion and waited for my next signal. Clearly, we were not Kansas any more…

“All righty — let’s see, you’ve been sitting here pondering the state of your universe, correct? And not getting anywhere, from the looks of it.” Before I could defend the accusation, I caught her sharp sweep of the room and silently conceded the point.

“Not only that, but it’s been the same story with you for a while, which is exactly why they finally sent me down for a chat.” She paused. Apparently, It was my turn.

“They did?,” I offered, with great portent. When in doubt, go for the gravity. “You betcha,” Billie shot back. Before I could inquire who ‘they’ were, exactly, she barreled ahead. “So again, I ask the $64,000 question — are you a good bitch or a bad bitch?

I took a nearly imperceptible pause before she spat out, “Come ON — it’s a simple question, girlie.”  “I’m not a bitch at all?” I dribbled in reply. She slapped her wand against the sofa cushions. “Ohhhhhh, good heavens, of course you are. You’re a bitch. I’m a bitch. She’s a bitch,” she continued, pointing towards one of my cats (the one brave enough to peek around the chair.) “And yes, I know. But I’m speaking metaphorically here, not anthropologically.” I didn’t know if this was a reaction to the uptick of my eyebrow or the indignant twitch of my cat’s tail.

She took a calming breath, “We’re all bitches, dear. Everyone gets bitchy from time to time, n’est ce pas? The differential here is good bitch/bad bitch, hence, my question. So, where do you fall?”

By this point, I wasn’t sure if I were more struck by the idea that Billie Burke had just called herself out as a bitch or that she was sounding less like the Good Witch of the North and more like Karen Walker after a few cocktails on WILL AND GRACE. “Come on, come on, come on,” she hissed. Her magic wand double time-stepped with all the energy of a 12-year-old competition dancer.

The tornado in my brain was now a Category 5, much bigger than the one that dumped a house on the evil-assed stripped stocking wearer. And the incessant tap of that wand finally drove me over the edge, “I guess— I think— I might— I DON’T KNOW!!!,” I screamed.  

“YES!!! Finally, anger!! Excellent.” She jumped up and did a surprisingly clean Thumb Flip Under Leg move with the magic wand which would have scored points at any twirling competition. I was confused but impressed.

“Look,” Billie continued, “I don’t have time for you to meander through the Kubler-Ross model. You’ve managed denial and anger pretty quickly on your own. But this dress is killing me, so we’re going to have to speed it up. I’ll push you through bargaining and depression so we can get right to acceptance. Truth is, hon, I’m starting to lose circulation in my legs.”

It was a startling admission on so many levels, I had no reply.

“Let me guess, you were told if you ate all your peas, kept your ankles crossed like a little lady and studied very, very hard eventually someone would notice and you’d get your just reward, right? So how’s that been working for you?

I looked behind me for Dr. Phil, but she grabbed me by the chin and turned me around. “Eyes front, this is still my ball. I’ll tell you how it’s been working — NOT! It sucks. You’ve spun your wheels around the same track over and over again. Sure in different years there were different jobs and different relationships, but always the same model with the same result. And you know what they say about repeating the same actions over and over hoping for a different result??? That’s right. Insanity!”

I wondered if this was the same ‘they’ who’d sent her down for this intervention, but it didn’t seem the sane time to ask.

She continued. “So, on the Kubler-Ross we’ve hit denial, anger and here we are at bargaining. How many pep talks did you give yourself over the years, “If I do “X” then “Y” will finally appear.” Did that ever work — nope. There’s your bargaining. Moving on — duh!! Smack into the Big D — DEE-pression. Who wouldn’t after all that spilt milk? Yes, it’s been rough and you’ve had the full ride. I know, I know. But, guess what — it’s almost over.”

She clapped her hands and actually began to glow. “We’re almost at acceptance!” On the outside I smiled and nodded in partnership. On the inside, I was praying for a seat belt, as I felt a sharp curve approaching.

“So, when they saw you sitting here, starting down that same circular path to nowhere yet again, they decided it was time to call in the big guns — ME. I have a 97.6% success rate and the fastest turnaround time in this hemisphere. I don’t like to boast, but I’m at the top of their list.”

“Who are these people?” I finally blurted out. Although like Butch and Sundance, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. Not a problem, as it turned out. Billie was in such a race to the finish she ignored my question.

“Honey, in only a matter of minutes I already have you at the door. Ready to take that last step, to finally unlock the secret of your existence.” Now, that caught my attention. I crossed my arms and sat back. “Okay, go ahead.”

“Here it is. The answer to my question. The answer to almost all your questions  — you are a bitch. A good bitch.”

I waited a second. The room didn’t move, nor the chandelier shake.  So I risked a serious “Oh, really” pout. But she was ready for it.

“You’ve spent your life following rules, avoiding being angry, keeping quiet unless you had something nice to say, right? I know, your Mother. She wasn’t wrong, but she wasn’t right, either. And she just wasn’t ready for this.”

Apparently, though, her daughter is.

“Did you ever stop to consider the positive side of bitchiness? The righteous posturing, the validated slow burn? Being a good bitch — allowing your self to be a good bitch — is to recognize your anger, embrace your reaction to rudeness, unfairness, and just plain nasty and whatever you do, don’t bury it. Engage!”

This was a totally new concept. I have bartered with, bludgeoned and buried several graveyards of personal grievances throughout my lifetime. There was a definite appeal to her logic. My eyes said, “Tell me more…”

“Accommodate your anger, it’s just as powerful as your happiness. Find a way to stick up for yourself, your beliefs and your point of view even if you have to go a little crazy ass on them. You may be surprised how nice it feels. Instead of hiding that gray mood, show it off.” This was starting to sound a lot like the antidote to an old Miss Clairol commercial. But “does she or doesn’t she” sold an awful lot of hair dye.  My roots and I were still listening.

“What’s more, the new you can step up for the angry, repressed girl who’s been trying to get what she wants all this time.  As a good bitch, instead of waiting, now you simply ask for what you want.”

Hmmm. Ask for what I want. I wanted to slap myself with the simplicity of it.

“As to the flip side, I know taking someone down, slicing them off at the knees, a full-scale bad bitchout sometimes seems the only solution. It’s certainly tempting and can feel incredibly satisfying — in the moment. But it’s not recommended as a steady diet. However, sometimes,” her eyes twinkled, “one does have to indulge.”

She paused and let it all sink it. “That’s it. We’re done.”  She reached over and plopped the crown back on her head. “So, now can I finally get an answer to my question?” I took a deep breath and smiled.

“Yes, ma’am. I am one good bitch.”

“Excellent!” She glanced a nearby clock “Two minutes-thirty, broke my own record. Sweet!” She leaped up to attempt a high-five, but fell back on the sofa cushions. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Just totally numb below the waist. Damn dress. Good thing I have alternate transportation.”

With that, she drew a large circle around herself with the magic wand. Immediately she was back inside her bubble, ascending toward my kitchen cabinets. With a final thumbs up, she disappeared into a corner crack and was gone.

As I looked down at my feet I smiled. I was wearing my red patent leather clogs. Clicking my heels together for good measure, I said the words out loud,

“I am definitely one good bitch.”

From somewhere in the ether, I head Billie reply, “Of course you are, my dear. Now go enjoy it.”

Dr. Bombay! Dr. Bombay!…

Early on, every time I daydreamed about my first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (because there is no other), as I envisioned myself sitting at the right hand of the King of Late Night, I somehow always morphed into Elizabeth Montgomery.

She / I chatted gaily in our little black dress, legs crossed with sexy ease punctuated by witty banter and the occasional and effective toss of shiny, shiny blonde hair.

Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stevens in BEWITCHED — which ran smack dab through the middle of my formative years — played a monster role in shaping my vision of the “woman to be.”  Samantha was perfect in her imperfection: smart but approachable, always pretty even when covered in exploded dinner or fireplace ash. Her brand of sexy was without danger and always with a touch of class. Sam was funny and beautiful, self-assured but humble. And she learned as many lessons as she taught. In short, not a bad role model no matter what the decade.

I dare you to find a woman my age who hasn’t seriously wished she could just twitch her nose in the face of a troubling situation. But sometimes, even Samantha had to call for assistance. Recently — rather frustrated with my lack of creative progress here — I followed her lead.

“Dr. Bombay, Dr. Bombay. Emergency, emergency!!
Come right away!!”

Guess what — it helped. No, I don’t mean that I chanted the above and suddenly Bernard Fox (see right) appeared in my living room wearing arctic gear from his climb up Everest and gave me the idea for this post. Frankly, my living room’s too crowded at the moment. But the sheer act of thinking of asking for help seemed to loose my creative constipation. Ugh — seems calling for a doctor was not contraindicated…

As regular readers of this blog know, I created The RIPE Project as the companion to a solo stage show I’m developing entitled RIPE. My intention (oh, the paving projects those bad boys have built) was to regularly use this forum to record the creative process as an aid to getting the stage show on its feet.

I started this blog out with a bang and then —

Yep. Progress halted. Car in park. Or more accurately, car ran out of gas. So, what do you do when what you do can only come from you? (Hey, wasn’t that a featured tune on the sequel to Marlo Thomas’s seminal children’s album, Free To Be…You And Me 2 — Beyond the Wonder Years??) What I’m finally learning is that when I’m stuck, I need to toss things up in the air. So, I shake out the blankets. Read a book. Watch a movie. Organize my desk. In short, I do whatever until something (and there’s always a something) catches on a corner of my brain.

Recently one night after reading a book/watching a movie/cleaning out a drawer, as I was falling asleep, out of nowhere I literally heard Samantha Stevens call to Dr. Bombay. (This kind of thing happens to me often. See my previous post ALL ABOARD THAT MUSICAL TOURETTES TRAIN.)

So Samantha Stevens led me to Elizabeth Montgomery who lead me to Johnny Carson which lead me to realizing just how informatively formative Bewitched really had been for me. Truth: sometimes I’d still LOVE to be Samantha Stevens. And since the point of RIPE is to examine the process of achieving ripeness as a person — in all of its forms — as experienced by me, well I was suddenly back on the road.

Since we’re on the subject of Samantha as muse, let’s take a closer look at the sociological picture presented by Sol Saks, creator of Bewitched. This half-hour sitcom featrued Samantha, a young beautiful witch who, instead of using her powers to fly around the world flagrantly enjoying the high life (like her mother, Endora, for example), instead seeks the ‘real’ love of a mortal. Once she meets Darren, she tries to stifle her magical powers to more comfortably blend into his world. Of course, she fails — but she never stops trying. As the series developed, both Darren and Sam seem to realize that her talent (being a witch) is much better off appreciated than scorned.

But while Samantha is always aiming to be the perfect mother and wife, she does have a crusty underlayer. She gets angry, can be spiteful, casts a questionable spell or three. But in essence, she’s not only a good witch she’s a good woman.

And then there’s Serena.

The flip side of Sam in almost every way, Elizabeth Montgomery was allowed the fun of dipping into overt and over the top when she was double-cast as Samantha’s cousin, Serena. The Madonna/Whore complex was energetically embossed through these characters. And choosing the same actress to portray them sent a sizzling secret message from this family sit-com: women can be both good and bad.

Serena was always the troublemaker. The tease. The sex machine. In fact, Serena was so associated with carnal pleasure, “she” was actually featured on a Playboy cover.

What fun for Elizabeth Montgomery, the actress. And what fun for me — the little Catholic schoolgirl watching. Because the double-casting of Elizabeth Montgomery sent the subliminal ping that even the most perfect woman/housewife/mother, somewhere deep inside, is still a sexy, tantalizing woman. Not necessarily a fact you easily learn from your own mother.

But, ain’t it the delicious truth!

Like the Landfills of My Mind…

Recently, I made a casual remark to my current boss, Joanne, about my being organized and detail oriented. Her immediate reply,

“I don’t think of you as organized and detail oriented.”

Now before the swell of that big, collective “Ouch,” she didn’t mean it like that. Well, actually she did. And what’s more, she’s right. That’s one benefit of working with an effective communicator. Because without her pithy observation, I might not have seen the truth peeking out from under the comment.

Throughout my life, I’ve slapped on the name tag “Good Girl.” Rule follower. Drawer organizer. You get my drift. I could have a religious experience at The Container Store — all that possibility makes me weak in the knees. But as soon as Joanne muttered her simple, declarative sentence, everything changed.

I grew up in a household where order and convention were key. My parents were incredibly successful at branding us for public consumption. Everything — the house, the yard, the kids, themselves — were coordinated, tasteful and ironed. Especially ironed (see below.) 

Even our playclothes matched. Around child number three (brother Mark), Mom did relax her grip and allow jeans. For the boys. This is not to imply I popped from some plastic personality prison. In truth, both of my parents were fun and incredibly creative. Just very focused on the visual.

Mark and Jan were both amateur painters who always colored within the lines (i.e., more still life than Jackson Pollock.) Their two biggest passions were landscaping and interior design and they excelled at both. They had many palettes. Every house we lived in (there were four) eventually resembled the tear sheets from an issue of House & Garden (that Condé Nast bible was always artfully displayed on our tasteful living room coffee table.)

In our house, at any given time at least one room was in the process a makeover. I can mark my childhood years by the changing bedroom decor. The primary colors and cinderblock bookcases of kindergarten (much more successful than it sounds!) The middle-school girl’s fairytale four-poster, all violet and viole (even then, a bit much for my tastes.) High school brought sophisticated green toile wallpaper and antiqued wood — very English country garden. We Kenna Kids learned all about restaging, long before the advent of HGTV. (M&J’s favorite channel, by the by. Scripps missed the opportunity of a lifetime not having them host their own show.)

And the decorating didn’t stop at the front door. We had more decks and patios, pools and pathways, arbors and stone walks than the Gardens at Versailles. But never too many or much. My parents had taste. In fact, I believe my mother deserved the Pulitzer Prize for Rock Garden Design (what do you mean they don’t have one?) Or maybe for that bi-level herringbone brick patio she laid by hand over several summer weeks. I’m sure it continues to provide respite for the current residents of that colonial garrison on Birchwood Drive.

And while it appeared to everyone (including me!) that we were loaded, this was all done on a dime. (Hittin’ the HGTV sweet spot again – PING!) Is there anyone out there who also played the cherished childhood game “To the Dump, to the Dump, to the Dump with Dad?” Nothing was more exciting that piling into the car for a trip to the mountain of misfit joys. My Dad was a genius with other people’s cast-offs. A chair, a broken lamp, an injured table. He’d strip, sand, apply his magical brushes — et voila! True beauty and purpose revealed. A favorite memory is his transformation of my grandparent’s broken-down RCA Victor combo TV/Radio cabinet. He tricked that baby out as a liquor cabinet so fine that, when first revealed, it prompted me to order a whiskey sour straight up. I was seven. They declined to serve.

And Jan — no slouch — was a demon on the Singer. She tailored slipcovers and draperies, complete bed ensembles and table linens, then kept on going. Throughout our early childhood, my mom designed and created coordinated Easter outfits for herself, my sister, Gina and me — right down to the hats. That’s right, we greeted the Easter Bunny dyed to a family palette. Go ahead, call Tim Gunn. We made it work.

But perhaps their biggest joy, the bond that kept them closest, was worshiping at the Cathedral of Clean. My parents were zealots with their own front pew. And the true saints in our little Catholic household? That holy trinity: bleach, ammonia and an old toothbrush.

Anything that could be laundered, was. There was rinsing, and hosing, and scrubbing and the ever present bar of Fels-Naptha brown soap. Shoes stood at attention in every closet, hangers saluted like Marines. To this day, any time I use a bath towel, I have to snap it sharply before folding it and placing it back on the rack. (Any hotel maid worth her salt knows if you plump the pile, the towel dries better…) Need I mention this terry cloth was color coordinated? Didn’t think so.

So of course, I grew up assuming those were my natural inclinations. Guess what, THEY’RE NOT!!!

I admit: I can meditate while folding clothes warm from the dryer. I delight to freshly laundered sheets. And not to make you blush, but washing dishes in hot, soapy water can be positively orgasmic. Yes, I can organize a closet within an inch of its life and rearrange a room in a heartbeat. But I’m finally embracing the truth. My truth. My natural tendency is to plop. To place. To let it all pile up. Read any TO DO list I’ve authored in the past 30 years. GET ORGANIZED stands near the top. Oh, there’s a message there, girlie…

Joanne’s comment tapped me on the shoulder, so I turned and looked back. Despite my childhood of artistic alignment, I live in a land of creative mess. I have architected a virtual archipelago from the landfill of my uncloseted sweaters, buildings of books and incomplete projects. Be they physical, mental, emotional — these dumpsites have grown to demand their own zip code. Every so often I haul out the garden implements and prune the jungle foliage. Occasionally I manage to release a few of the smaller islands back into the sea. But always they remain, firm as bedrock.

Hauling this around for years has been exhausting. So my thanks to Joanne (with the requisite nod to Oprah) for my “Aha!” moment. Seems I’m not detail oriented. But I’ll eagerly dive into piles of detail and roll around in the lint. I am organized, just not in the linear sense. I like to chunk my stuff. In different ways and in multiple locations. I’m not my parents, but I am their daughter. I appreciate the sleek, but I dive into the eclectic.

And that, I’ve decided, is not only okay, but FANTASTIC! Because you know those islands I’ve been dragging around behind me all these years. Those little mocking mountains of mayhem? Guess what!!! I suddenly realized, they’re mine to use as I wish. That’s right. So I’ve decided I’ll drop anchor and sit back and relax on this— my personally crafted beachfront. It’s all bought and paid for. I’m finally a property owner!!!

So with thanks to Joanne I think it’s time to say —

“Yoo-hoo, cabana boy!! Fetch me a chaise lounge and umbrella, please. ‘Cause this water’s looking mighty fine!”


This Sponge Is Saturated

As I begin this official ripening process, I need to face down a major conundrum in my life. And leave it to a 1958 Rosalind Russell movie to effectively frame the issue for me.

Auntie Mame:  Oh, Agnes! Here you’ve been taking my dictation for weeks and you haven’t gotten the message of my book: LIVE!
Agnes Gooch: (tepidly)  Live?
Auntie Mame:  Yes, LIVE! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving themselves to death!

See, here’s my deal. For years now, apparently I’ve been waiting for the right moment to start my actual life. Not consciously, mind you. I’ve been cleaning my closets and paying my taxes along with the rest of you.

Maybe it was the palm reading by that Argentinian folk singer, Nehuseniã, back in college. She took my hand, looked deeply into my eyes and said with great portent and a thick Brazilian accent, “You are an old soul. You will come to prominence later in life recreating something from the past.” Perhaps it was playing all those mothers, maids and matriarchs early in my career [I was tall. What’s your point?] That alone could have thrown me off my trajectory and into an unfulfilled ingénue loop where I’ve sat waiting for the appointed poison apple/wolf/fairy godmother to stop by and release me into adulthood.

Whatever the truth, living the “solitary life” (i.e., no kids, husband or mortgage) is not unusual in my circle here in the city. This scenario can seem poetically free or just plain sad, depending on the weather. But one thing is certain, it leaves everything up to me — the good and the bad. And since I don’t have to negotiate with anyone but myself to make changes in my life, where’s the big deal?

Given the choice [Ed. Note: Didn’t she just say that’s EXACTLY what she has?], I’d take living as Auntie Mame over Agnes Gooch. But for some reason, I keep stepping back into the Gooch’s shoes. To many — sometimes even myself — I am Auntie Mame. Extravagant, flamboyant, creative. Sixteen years ago when her daughter was born, my sister-in-law, Michelle, revealed she’d immediately cast me in that role with my newest niece, Claire. Since my nom de tante was already “Auntie Dee,” the stage was set. All right, I didn’t so much take them all on travels around the world as gift them of books to read. Educational. Enlightening. Infinitely cheaper to ship.

To others — and I head up this list — I’m Agnes Gooch, the faithful, schlumpy, diligent admin support for just about everyone’s life but my own.  I used to trip over myself making sure the new co-worker felt welcome. “Help paint your apartment, neighbor, why sure!!!” More than once on the job I’ve volunteered to take over someone else’s workload just because I could. Ever vigilant in my ear was my Mom whispering, “Be quiet. Work hard. Eventually you’ll be noticed.” But that path hasn’t ended up taking me where I want to go. And I’m pretty sure by the end of her life, even my Mom would have tweaked that advice.

So, who am I? Yes, yes, we all know the answer — I’m both. I’m everybody, as are we all, Amen. I’m Mame. I’m Gooch. I’m Catwoman and Donna Reed. I’m the Flying Nun and Shirley Partridge. I’m Peggy AND Kelly Bundy. I’m even Roseanne, with and without the Barr nuts. [The iconography of my youth. Keep it moving…]

Back to my original framework, most of the time in my world, I feel like Gooch. For years, I’ve been that thirsty sponge of obedience, standing on the sidelines waiting to soak up instruction and excitement, attuned for permission to finally what? Wipe up life’s messes? Ring myself out? Well, ladies and gentlemen, as a manager I once worked with used to keen in frustration when that “one too many” of items was introduced at a team meeting:

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. This sponge is saturated!!”

More of her anon. Me, I’ve reached my tipping point. The time has come to throw down Gooch’s dictation book and whip off the Coke-bottle glasses. I intend to slip into Mame’s opera pumps and toss that ermine-trimmed cape [Figure of speech. ONLY faux.] grandly about my shoulders. I finally have an appointment with the precipice of my own womanhood and I’m not about to be late. Because, in the brilliantly absorbent words of that “femme fatale,” Agnes Gooch:

Can I have an AMEN. And… Scene.